Virtual Run: 5 Popular Sites to Pick Your Next Race

Can’t find a race in your local area? COVID still putting a damper on running events? Sign up for a virtual run to go the distance. 

From a 5K to a 26.2-mile marathon and beyond, you can sign up for a virtual run and start from your front door.

Virtual runs have been a thing for a while now, but it took a global pandemic to really throw this event format into the spotlight. 

While many races were canceled due to concerns over social distancing, others moved to the virtual run format. Even some of the larger races like the Boston Marathon switched to the virtual run.

Here's what you need to know about virtual runs + 5 places you can sign up...

Virtual runs reach more people


Local races are great. But the virtual run connects more people, increases visibility for the event, and offers more chances to gain support for a cause.

I happened to be organizing a race with a team to raise money to help prevent blindness around the world when COVID hit.

We were able to switch gears to a virtual run event, and we ended up having runners from 17 states and even a few different countries! We’re already planning to have a virtual component again this year.

When you sign up for a virtual run, you won't be racing with a crowd. But you'll still run a specific distance, track your time, and submit both.

How does the virtual run format work


Signing up for a virtual race is no different than signing up for a typical in-person event. 

  • Online registration. It’s as simple as going to a website, putting in your pertinent information, and paying a race fee. 
  • The virtual-run goodie bag. Most virtual races will send you a bib, medal, and shirt through the mail — but you’ll want to verify this before you sign up.
  • Timeline. Virtual runs still stick to a strict time frame for when they can be completed but often give a few days or even a week to complete your run.
  • Tracking. It will be up to you to record your run using a smartphone or fitness watch and then upload that data to the race’s website. It may sound a bit tricky, but it’s actually quite simple. The races I have done provide detailed explanations.

Why a virtual run?


No one knows how much longer Covid will be around for, but something tells me that virtual runs will remain popular. There's at least 5 reason the virtual run has become a popular event format...

1. Find a Cause You Can Run For

Whether you live in a big city or a small town, you may want to get out and run a race, but you can’t find a cause you’re particularly excited about. There’s of course nothing wrong with that, but the run just seems to feel that much more special when you’re able to raise money for a cause you truly believe in.

2. Run anywhere

Another cool feature of a virtual run is that you get to create your own race route. 

  • Sure, there’s going to be a set distance, but who’s to say that distance has to have challenging hills or slippery slopes?
  • You’ll also want to keep in mind intersections that may normally be blocked off during a race will not be for your virtual run. 
  • Try to pick a route that’s free of cars, bikes, and people that may come between you and your goal.
  • Don’t forget to think about bathroom access for longer runs should nature call while you’re out.

You can use the knowledge of your own community to plan out a route that is scenic, flat, shaded, or whatever else you enjoy when you’re out for a run. 

Prefer a gravel trail? Go for it. 

Know of a nice loop around a lake? The sky’s the limit.

I’d highly recommend testing the route out before your actual race so you can be aware of any surprises and make changes as necessary. 

I usually run over a bridge on longer runs and discovered it was closed a few weeks back. I’d have hated to find that out on a virtual race day.

3. Run any time

I know I’ve had my share of mornings where I’ve grumbled about getting out of bed before the sun rises to get out to the starting line of the race I’m running. 

Also, where I’m from, it can be 35 degrees in the morning only to warm up to 70 degrees by noon. I know which temperature I’d prefer to run in.

The beautiful thing about a virtual run is that you aren’t restricted to running at a particular time of day. 

  • Early risers can run their race first thing in the morning, and those that like to sleep in a bit can run in the afternoon or the evening.

Virtual runs usually offer further flexibility with time by giving a range of dates that the race can be completed on. 
  • This window may sometimes only be a few days, but it still lets you pick the day with the best conditions that work for you. 
  • You can plan around cold and rainy days or choose to run on a day you don’t have a huge presentation to give at work.

4. Cool swag

I alluded to this earlier, but virtual runs don’t typically skimp on the goodies just because you’re not running with a bunch of others in person. 

I’ll admit that I really enjoy getting the shirt, and the bib and medal are good reminders that it is an actual race that I want to give my all for.

Not all races offer swag, but I’ve found that to be the case for in-person races too. If this is a big deal for you, just verify before you sign up.

Here's an example of virtual run swag you can earn by completing a race organized by Gone for a Run.

5. Embarrassment-free experience

Running a race can be a nerve-wracking experience with upwards of thousands of other runners and countless spectators. 

A virtual run still puts you head to head with other runners but allows you to run your race without them physically present (unless you want to bring a friend or two along).

This can help to clear away some butterflies and allow you to focus more on the run.

How to prepare for a virtual run


Just like an in-person race, you’ll want to make sure you’re sufficiently geared up for the virtual-run distance you’re about to cover.

Gear

Your plan for gear shouldn’t be much different than that of a typical in-person race. If anything, it should be easier to leave extra things at home or in your car before you set out.

Hydration and nutrition

There won’t be water stations on a virtual run unless you have friends who are generous enough to stand out on your route as you pass by. 

Instead, you’ll need to bring enough liquids to keep yourself hydrated on your person. There are cool belts you can clip water bottles to, or you can use a hydration pack.

For fuel, experts suggest consuming 30 to 90 grams of carbs for every hour you’re out there. You’ll want to pack some food or snacks with you to keep you energized to make it to your finish line.

I’ve always found pockets to be sufficient for stashing my Gu or chewable electrolyte tabs. A light, easy-to-access backpack is an option too, but that’s one more thing you need to carry that can also trap sweat.

Track your run

You will also need to bring with you some sort of device to track your time. There won’t be a chip for this run, so this responsibility falls on your shoulders - or at least on your hand in the form of a watch.

If a watch is not an option for you, don’t fret. There are several running apps available that you can use to track your time, distance, pace, step count, and more. Whatever you choose to use, make sure it links up with GPS to accurately track your run while you’re out.

There’s no set rule on this, but it is generally frowned upon to pause your device while you’re on your race. You're not given this luxury in an in-person race, it should be no different here.

Pro Tip:
Turn off your phone’s battery saver mode before your race, which puts limitations on what your GPS can do. You won’t want to finish your run and find out your device only recorded 5 miles of a half marathon. No, I’m not bitter…

Do virtual races count towards a PR?


Well, the answer to this question is ultimately up to you. 

A virtual run is not identical to an in-person race. You’re still out there running a set distance that a good fitness watch or phone is going to accurately record. 

As long as you don’t pause your device and take a break, why wouldn’t a time you recorded by yourself not be considered a personal best?

Your personal bests are your personal business, and at the end of the day, you’re going to care the most about your best time.

5 places to find a virtual run


As I mentioned before, more and more virtual runs are popping up all over the place, and I don’t see this trend stopping any time soon. If you’re in the market to run a virtual race, check out these websites below for some cool races you can run.

1. Virtual Run Events


Every race Virtual Run Events hosts supports a charity. So far virtual runners have helped donate an estimated $900,000 to charities around the world.



2. Virtual Run


Runners love the creative theme-based runs and medals designed by Virtual Run for every distance.


3. Gone For A Run


Gone For A Run makes it really easy to submit your virtual run finish time to receive your medal.


4. Virtual Run Challenge


Use the "Find a Race" search feature on the Virtual Run Challenge site to find your next race.


5. Running On the Wall


Every virtual run hosted by Running on the Wall includes a variety of options to celebrate reaching your finish line.

BONUS: Check with your local running group


In addition, your local running groups and race organizers are likely keeping tabs on all the races in your area that have gone virtual. While I’ve seen a few in-person races popping up in my area, the majority are still virtual. After all, we are still in a pandemic, and who knows what tomorrow will bring!

The Rundown on virtual runs


Whether there’s a global pandemic happening or not, virtual runs are a great way of getting out and challenging yourself against the multitudes. They offer the convenience of being able to run where you want, when you want. And you don’t have to worry about your shorts falling down in front of a thousand people.

Even if there are no in-person races in your area, there’s no reason to let the summer pass by without running a virtual one!

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